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& Culture On Photographic

Volume 2Issue 3 Violence
November 2009
pp. 303316
Sharon Sliwinski

Reprints available directly

from the publishers Sharon Sliwinski is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of
Information and Media Studies at the University of Western
Photocopying permitted by Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. Her research interests
licence only include visual culture and communication, critical theory,
Berg 2009 history and theory of photography, psychoanalysis and
psychoanalytic theory. She is currently at work on a book
called Human Rights In Camera which traces the visual
dimensions of human rights discourse.

This paper explores the signicance of photographic
violence in relation to a single defaced image found during
the Bosnian War. The single example of pictorial violence
opens a set of questions interrogating the nature of
human aggression: What is the status of violence carried
out in efgy? Can this particular example of defacement
open understanding into the other forms of violence that
took place during the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia?
How does the image come to be marked by affect but also
serve as the medium of its transmission? And nally, why
does photography lend itself so easily to the expression
of aggression? The wager of this paper is that thinking
through such instances of photographic violence can shed
new light on the nature of human violence writ large.

Keywords: trauma, memory, violence, genocide

even scratched to death

a simple rectangle
of thirty-ve
saves the honor
of all the real
J-L Godard, Histoire(s) du cinma

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304 On Photographic Violence Sharon Sliwinski

One of the most potent images collected under the Muslim-led Bosnian government.
during the Bosnian War was a found But upon their departure, the occupiers stole
photograph (Figure 1). According to its almost everythingthe furniture, appliances,
nder, the photojournalist Ron Haviv, when cabinets, sinks, and even the windowpanes.
the daughter of the Muslim family pictured in The defaced photograph was the sole item
the image returned to Sarajevo after the war, left behind (Haviv 2000: 175).
she found her family home had been looted. On the one hand, the sheer endurance
Serbs who had occupied the house during of this image is remarkable. Unlike all the
the war nally left once the city was reunited other household items, the photograph

Fig 1 Blood and Honey: A

defaced photograph that was
found by a Bosnian family when
they returned to their home
in a suburb of Sarajevo, Bosnia,
March 17, 1996. Photographer:
Ron Haviv.

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Sharon Sliwinski On Photographic Violence 305

managed to survive as a melancholy relic of unique medium of visual reproduction, but

war. In this respect, photographsand family also as a unique medium for the expression
photographs in particularappear to hold of violence. Hannah Arendt (1970) reminds
little exchange value. Their worth is usually us that violenceas distinct from power,
non-transferable. On the other hand, the force, or strengthrequires implements.2
narrative illustrates the way photography The history of warfare is inextricably bound
lends itself to a variety of uses in times of up with the history of technology. The
war. Specically, the example shows how frightening example from the Bosnian War
photographs can be pressed into service to suggests that by the close of the twentieth
actually wage war. The violence done to the century, photography became one of the
surface of the image appears, on rst glance, exemplary implements of genocide.
to echo the violence occurring throughout The violent effacement is, however, only
the region. The family members identities one of the affective registers bound up in
have been scratched out, cleansed of the this example. The photographs history of
customary markers of ethnicity. In the hands uses include: the familys initial circulation and
of the occupiers, the photograph became an preservation of the snapshot, the occupiers
emissary of destructive affect, a canvas for acquisition and sadistic defacement,
the expression of sadistic desires. and nally the spectators melancholy
This solitary example of pictorial violence contemplation of the relic in the time of
opens a larger set of questions about the afterwards, when one meets its reproduction
nature of human aggression. What is the in Ron Havivs own collection of photographs
status of violence carried out in efgy? of the war, Blood and Honey: A Balkan War
Should the defacement be read as a Journal. This is to say, the contemporary
fantasy that forestalls more direct forms of spectator enters into, and indeed, becomes
violence? Or is this a kind of acting out a participant in this narrative only at its
that inevitably leads to more profound conclusion. But this last site is itself unstable
forms of destruction, namely the annihilation because the spectator is actually obliged to
of human beings? (Freud 2005 [1914]).1 perform a dual task: to identify the subject
Can the particular violence done to the of the image and to identify with it (Olin
image be read for its psychology of style? 2002). In order to comprehend this
That is, does the particular defacement sequence of historical events, in order to
open understanding into the other forms know, one has to imagine for oneself the
of violence that took place during the terrifying signicance of this lonely relic. The
dissolution of the former Yugoslavia? And spectator, in other words, becomes both the
apart from these hermeneutical questions, receiver of the objects enigmatic message
why does photographyas opposed to and the carrier of its affective resonances.
the myriad of other material artifacts of a The wager of this paper is that attending
homelend itself so easily to the expression these registersthinking through this acting
of aggression? In other words, perhaps this out of genocide in picturescan shed new
example calls for a broader investigation light on the nature of human violence writ
into the ways photography is not only a large.

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306 On Photographic Violence Sharon Sliwinski

Community Building Muslim populations. After three and a half

The old Yugoslavia boasted one of the years of bloodshed, including the nightmare
worlds richest tapestries of language, religion, of SrebrenicaEuropes worst massacre in
and culture before its people turned to more than ve decadesNATO intervened
violence in the 1990s. The chief architect with air strikes. The Dayton Peace
of this breakdown was Slobodan Miloevic, Agreement, signed on December 14, 1995,
a member of the Yugoslav Communist bought a brief and tense ceasere to the
Party, who rose to power in the country region. The peace only lasted a few months,
in the late 1980s. During his rise through whereupon Albanians, living in a virtual
the ranks, journalists sympathetic to the apartheid system in Kosovo, began attacking
politician began spreading a fantasy about Serbian police units in 1996. Miloevic used
a grand conspiracy against the Serbian these attacks by the Kosovo Liberation
nation: the KGB together with the CIA, Army to relaunch his plans for an ethnically
the Albanians, the separatists in Slovenia, cleansed Serbian nation. By the fall of 1998
and Islamic fundamentalists in Bosnia were the Serb police had driven tens of thousands
purportedly working together to weaken of Albanians from their homes. NATO again
Serbia. As a result of this inammatory demanded that Miloevic withdraw his
rhetoric, caf life began to break down along police units after Serb troops massacred a
ethnic lines (during this conict the term group of civilians in the village of Racak. The
ethnicity was often used as a euphemism presidents negotiators refused and NATO
for religious afliation). Serbs began refusing launched a limited air campaign. This only
to send their children to school with incited the Yugoslav army to expand their
Muslims. Croats complained of being laid ethnic-cleansing operations. Thousands of
off by Serb managers, and vice versa. In Albanians were killed and some one million
June 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared people were driven from their homes.
independence from Yugoslavia, which was Miloevic nally withdrew his forces only
quickly followed by an announcement from once NATO threatened a ground campaign
Macedonia. The next spring the Federation (Gutman 1993; Maas 1997; Sudetic 2000;
of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced Power 2002). The tragedies in this region
its own secession. What began as local offer one of the most potent examples in
skirmishes in Croatia escalated until the fall recent decades of just how difcult it is to
of 1991, when the Yugoslav army launched love thy neighbor.
an invasion into Croatia to protect the When the Bosnian War began in
Serb minority who lived there. Within a 1992, Western political leaders and even
few months, Serbs had seized a quarter of United Nations negotiators proposed that
Croatias territory and convinced the UN the ghting was the result of ancient
to send a force to guard the region. The ethnic hatreds, animosities that had been
Yugoslav army then redeployed their forces smoldering for centuries in the blood of a
to Bosnia and war broke out there in 1992 people prone to violence. Such portrayals
when Serb paramilitary forces attacked lean on a strangeone might say infantile
Bijeljina and other towns, driving out the theorizing in which violence is believed to

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Sharon Sliwinski On Photographic Violence 307

break out because chance events iname pictorial catalogue of the violence that
millennia-old blood tensions. Such a narrative gripped the region: a crowd of Bosnians
appears to be easier to entertain than one dodging sniper re at a peace rally in the
in which a group of humans deliberately Spring of 1992; a Muslim captive pleading
choose to reconstruct their world through for his life from a paramilitary unit called the
mass extermination. Genocide, after all, is an Tigers; the remains of a Kosovar Albanian
exercise in community building (Gourevitch reduced to ashes by Serbian forces in 1999;
1998: 95). In Civilization and its Discontents, emaciated prisoners awaiting deportation at
Sigmund Freud (Freud 2002 [1930]) offers the Serb-run Trnopolje camp; Sarajevos new
a version of this thesis with what he calls warchitecture;3 and most famously, one of
the narcissism of minor differences. The Arkans Tigers kicking a murdered Muslim
term describes how peoples who share woman in the head in Bijeljina.4 Thousands of
the same space of nation nd means to photographs emerged from the wars in the
distinguish themselves as members of a Balkans, but Blood and Honey bears witness
particular social group. In Freuds words: to the primary target of the violence: civilians.
One should not belittle the advantage Uncannily akin to the defaced photograph,
that is enjoyed by a fairly small cultural this wars ravages are visibly inscribed onto
circle, which is that it allows the aggressive the very bodies of the people whose likeness
drive an outlet in the form of hostility to Haviv captured with his camera.
outsiders. It is always possible to bind quite The found photograph is one of the
large numbers of people together in love, very last images reproduced in Blood and
provided that others are left out as targets Honey. And while Havivs photographs ask
for aggression (Freud 2002 [1930]: 50). The us to dwell on photographic events, on the
thesis is counter-intuitive: rather than posit images pained and painful referents, the
a biological or ethnic source for social found photograph refuses this look. The
violence, Freud proposes that community damage done to the surface of the image
dynamics are structured by the vicissitudes makes it difcult for the spectator to drift
of love and hate. The omnipotent desire into the photographic scene and so changes
for purity compels the members of a social the functioning of the image. The destruction
group to expel their impurities onto nearby draws attention to the photograph as
others. The group remakes their neighbors an artefact, as a two-dimensional picture
into strangers in order to cement their own that fails to represent that which is absent.
attachments. Genocide, in other words, is a The damage is specic in this regard: a
story about the treacheries of love. combination of ne horizontal scratches
Can the photograph tell us anything more which bite into the paper and four long
about this drama of social violence? The vertical cuts that pierce the image.5 In his
defaced image from Bosnia is reproduced in study of defacement, Valentin Groebner
Ron Havivs book, Blood and Honey, which (Groebner 2004) calls upon a medieval
provides an expansive visual documentation German word to characterize the quality
of the conict. The album is a tting home of such disgurements: Ungestalt. Both
for the lonely relic. Havivs book offers a a noun and an adjective, Ungestalt could

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308 On Photographic Violence Sharon Sliwinski

be translated into English as hideous or magical emanation, but a material product

hideousness, but taken more literally, of a material apparatus set to work in
the term points to a particular quality of specic contexts, by force, for more or
formlessness. That is, unlike hideousness less dened purposes (Tagg 1988: 3). This
which implies a gruesome disgurement that alternative position contends the signicance
may be all-too-visible, Ungestalt can signify of whatever has-been is not bound by the
that which has no appearance (Groebner photographic frame, but shaped by who
2004: 12). The distinction is important in the and how and why viewers look. Rather
Bosnian example. The damage done to this than reside in a unique proximity to the real,
photograph does not merely mar the familys here photographic meaning is thought to
faces.6 This is not simple vandalism. Where depend upon the circulation and context in
there were once identiable people in this which the image is viewed (Burgin 1982;
photograph, only terrifying voids remain. Tagg 1988; Apel and Smith 2007; Phu and
The family has been rendered into faceless Brower 2009).
exemplars of horror. The debate about photographic
meaning is particularly resonant when it
The Mad Image comes to images of violence. Susan Sontag
The grounds for assessing the signicance underscored the problematic in Regarding
of this violence are contested. The status of the Pain of Others, her second and last
the photographic imageand especially the book on photography, when she wrote: all
nature of the evidence the document can photographs wait to be explained or falsied
profferhas been under debate virtually by their captions. During ghting between
since the inception of the camera. On one Serbs and Croats at the beginning of the
side stands Roland Barthess famous dictum recent Balkan wars, the same photographs
that all photographs proclaim that-has- of children killed in the shelling of a village
been, that is, what one sees in the image were passed around at both Serb and Croat
once really existed (Barthes 1981: 77). This propaganda briengs. Alter the caption,
position argues that the photograph, as a and the childrens deaths could be used and
material registration of light, provides unique reused (Sontag 2003: 10). Ron Havivs found
phenomenological evidence of the prior photographand specically the violence
existence of a thing. Yet Barthes cautions: enacted upon its surfaceseems to offer
there is madness in the mediums proximity further evidence for the radical malleability of
to reality. The image refers to something that photographic meaning. Not only can meaning
is both not there and indeed has been and be shifted simply by changing the context
this particular quality renders the photograph of viewing, but by altering (or in this case,
a mad image, chafed by reality (Barthes by defacing) the graphic properties of the
1981: 115). image. The meaning of a photographic image
On the other side of the debate, is never xed, never guaranteed, and never
contemporary theorists argue that what to be trusted. Like all implements of violence,
photography shows is mere illusion. John this medium will lend its signifying powers to
Tagg claims that the photograph is not a the highest bidder.

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Sharon Sliwinski On Photographic Violence 309

But this proven malleability of world as well as the means by which we

photographic meaning should not lead us affect it.
to lose sight of the force of a photograph, Barthes offers us an opening for thinking
or of the problematic point where, as through how the photograph serves as
Barthes puts it, the image is chafed by both a container and agent of affect: The
reality. It is signicant, in other words, that Photograph, he insists, is a bizarre medium,
the defacement of the family photograph a new form of hallucination (Barthes 1981:
in the hands of the Serb occupiers does 115, original emphasis). In contrast to an
not fully destroy the prior meaning of the illusion (which is a strictly visual perception),
photograph as a family keepsake. Indeed, a hallucination can include an array of
the defacement actually relies on this prior sensory and somatic sensations: smells,
meaning to lend the violence its force. The feelings, tastes, and sounds. What Barthes
destructive gesture needs the signicance proposes is that photographys peculiar
of the familys image to remain at least effectsits madnessfar exceed the realm
partially legible. The set of questions this of vision. Photography is a medium that
example quickens, therefore, centers less on can encompass a broad affective terrain.
the source of photographic meaning than In the dense last chapter of Camera Lucida,
on the signicance of its treatment, on the Barthes dwells on the various ways society
extraordinary vicissitudes of affect: How has attempted to tame this madness which
can the photograph act as both a source keeps threatening to explode in the face of
and emissary of the occupiers aggression? whoever looks at a photograph. There he
How does the image come to be marked calls photography ecmnesic, which is to say
by affect but also serve as the medium of its this medium produces something more than
transmission? just a vision of the past. Looking upon an
In psychoanalytic terms, affect is the image can induce a state of delirium in which
qualitative expression of the quantity of the past actually feels present. Photography is
drive energy as well as its uctuations a form of hallucination in which one can feel
(Laplanche and Pontalis 1973: 13). Freud oneself to be in a prior time.
uses the term quota of affect as a way This sounds like madness to be sure.
to point to the particular amount of a Given Barthess admission that he is writing
drives charge. The affective representation while deep in grief over his mothers death,
of this charge can take a variety of forms, one might wonder if his evaluation of
from bodily signs (physical sensations photographys functioning is distorted by
and parapraxis) to conscious, nameable melancholia. Even Freud admitted he had
feelings. Affect is, then, simply a medium difculty evaluating whether mourning is ever
for drive energy. The distinct fate of affects successful (Freud 2005 [1917]). As a means
characterthe extraordinary vicissitudes to measure its success, Freud contrasted
of emotional lifeis not only subject to mourning with melancholia, the latter being
internal pressures but also to pressures from a distinct position a subject takes in relation
the outside world. Affect is the register to the loss of the beloved object. Normally,
through which we are susceptible to the a respect for the reality of the loss carries

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310 On Photographic Violence Sharon Sliwinski

the day, which is to say ones attachments toward hatred is satised by turning the
and investments in the beloved are slowly aggression back against the self. In On War,
withdrawn in a painful, piecemeal fashion. But one of the most famous texts ever written
the melancholic turns away from the reality on the subject, Carl von Clausewitz denes
of the loss and holds onto the beloved in a war in the following quasi-psychoanalytic
hallucinatory mannerin efgy, in the truest way: as an act of violence [that] is intended
sense of the word. In normal mourning, there to compel the enemy to fulll our will
is a painful recognition that the lost other is (Clausewitz 1982: 101). In grief and in war, it
no longer, nothing but a memory, an image is difcult to let the other go.
in the mind of the viewer (Derrida 1996). The parallel between these two
The melancholic functions as if the other still psychological positions is underscored by
exists. Listen to Barthes on the photograph: the treatment of the found photograph.
it bears the efgy to that crazy point where This example from war-torn Sarajevo
affect (love, compassion, grief, enthusiasm, cements Barthess theory. According to Ron
desire) is the guarantee of Being. It then Havivs account, the occupiers successfully
approaches, to all intents, madness; it joins took up residence in the house of their
what Kristeva calls la vrit folle (Barthes enemy, making a home for themselves in
1981: 113). For Barthes, photography can the place of the (hated) other. Even when
open a hallucinatory passageway to the forced to abandon the house, they took
others being. Through the photograph one the enemy-others possessions with them.
can actually enter the crazy spectacle, take In psychoanalytic terms, the Serbs identied
into ones arms what is dead, what is going with the Muslim family so thoroughly they
to die. managed to incorporate their most intimate
One may be tempted to dismiss Barthess household objects. Identication is a way
thesis about photography as the madness to modify self-representation, a complex
of a man deep in grief, a man gripped by a process where the subject assimilates
hallucinatory wish-psychosis. But this mode some aspect or property of the other
of mental functioning nds a curious parallel and is thereby transformed. Put simply, the
in the delusions of war. Like mourning, war occupiers were able to take the familys
can provoke a psychological distress that objects as their own. Only the photograph
is expressed most clearly in an altered stubbornly refused this inscription. Where
relation to the other. In fact, in much of the the occupiers own image ought to have
psychoanalytic writing on the subject, the appeared, the Muslim familys faces looked
problem of war is placed in the context back. Put differently, the photograph
of mourning. For Franco Fornari, war is a registered as a refusal, as a lack, as negative
paranoid elaboration of mourning (Fornari ocular proof of the occupiers existence in
1975: xviii). For Jacqueline Rose (1993), war the place of the other. Akin to Barthess
parallels the ambivalence of love relationships vision of the photograph as ecmnesic, for the
evident in melancholia. In times of war, Serbs, the Muslim family snapshot appeared
aggression is projected onto the enemy- to function like a negative hallucination.7
other. In melancholia, the human tendency In the face of the photograph, the fact of

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Sharon Sliwinski On Photographic Violence 311

the familys existence could not be denied. to one Auschwitz survivor, Yehuda Bacom,
The photograph registers the stakes of there was a separate crematorium in the gas
this struggle with plastic clarity. The cruel, chamber complex where such items were
deliberate scratches testify to a violent surge incinerated (cited in Young 2001: 16).
of affect. The image became a medium, The full signicance of this deliberate
a site of the transference through which destructionand in particular its
the occupiers could express their hatred: transferential relationship to the burning
an embodied location where unconscious of peoplehas perhaps yet to be realized.
wishes could be actualized. In short, the Throughout his oeuvre, Freud never tired of
photograph provided a hallucinatory venue emphasizing the strangeness of encountering
for the Serbs to realize the annihilation of signs of the transference. He came to
their neighbors. regard it as both necessary and dangerous
to the project of analysis. Transference
Intractable Reality is both the condition for analysis and the
The example from Bosnia is certainly not most powerful obstacle to its success. In
the most extreme incident of photographic his own way, Roland Barthes proposes that
violence in the history of war. The the photograph functions similarly. These
destruction of the European Jewry during peculiar images are the site of our most
World War II was designed not only to ambivalent attachments, locations through
eradicate an entire people, but also to which we pass beyond the unreality of the
consume all memory itself. During the thing represented (Barthes 1981: 117). The
course of their methodical extermination photograph opens a paradoxical relationship
project, the Nazis went to great lengths to in which one encounters the very letter of
expunge all traces of their victims. It is well time, a backward movement in which the
known, for instance, that prisoners arriving past dominates our view of the present.
at Auschwitz-Birkenau had their personal Focusing on the affective treatment of
belongings conscated upon arrival. These the imageattending photographic violence
items were sent to the Kanada storehouse rather than depictions of violenceopens a
to be meticulously sorted and catalogued: sideways view of the functioning of social
clothing, toys, shoes, eyeglasses, prosthetic violence (iek 2008). What the Nazis and
devices, gold teeth, wristwatches, jewelry, the Serbs nd intolerable and rage-provoking
suitcases, books, hairanything that could about the ferociously normal family
be reappropriated by the German people. photographs is not the immediate reality of
Contemporary visitors to the museum at Jews or Muslims. It is the gure, the image of
Auschwitz can still ruefully gaze upon huge the Jew and the Muslim, that is the true
bins of these artifacts. Less well remembered target of violence. Instances of photographic
is what happened to the personal effects that violence underscore the primacy of this
were deemed unusable, those things that fantasmatic dimension. Such instances
resisted German reappropriation and were of acting out should not, in the end, be
therefore deliberately destroyed: letters, regarded as a mere secondary effect, as a
drawings, family photographs. According distortion of real social violence. Indeed,

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312 On Photographic Violence Sharon Sliwinski

the symbolic realm is the ultimate resort of violent treatment still manages to convey
all human violence (iek 2008: 66). And the qualitative force of wars affects. The fact
this is the mad point of all photography, the the Nazis took such pains to destroy these
place where the image is chafed by reality. objects in the same manner as they did their
To rephrase Barthess enigmatic thesis, owners underscores Barthes thesis about
the photograph offers an uncomfortable the ecmnesic quality of photography. Yet the
proximity, a kind of suture between the social images in The Last Album, like the Sarajevo
and psychical realms. When the identity of snapshot, nevertheless offer a uniquely
this family was attacked through the ravaging moving testimony of the catastrophes
of the photograph, it was not merely a reach. For here spectators meet the painful,
statement about what the family represents. piecemeal work of mourning head-on.
Rather, the attack determined their social This is what I think Barthes meant with his
existence, the very being of these subjects. last words on the photograph: in each of
In a mad, hallucinatory way, one only has to these images one confronts the wakening
look at the photograph to feel the force of of intractable reality (Barthes 1981: 119).
this vicious inscription. Everything pictured in these photographs
Is there something to be gained from is lost and yet everything must be let go.
attending this violence? Judith Butler (2004) Negotiating such losses recongures the very
proposes that thinking through our exposure ties that bind.
to violence and the task of mourning that
follows constitutes an important dimension Notes
of political life. The work of mourning is 1 One thinks of Heinrich Heines oft-cited line from
set in contradistinction to the violence of Almansor: That was only play. Where they have
war. Grief, Butler contends, provides as an burned books, they will end in burning human
alternative ground for imagining community. beings.
One can gather a sense this perilous task 2 Hannah Arendt, who wrote On Violence in
by looking through The Last Album, a rare the wake of the 1968 student uprisings and
collection of the personal photographs that in the context of the rising violence in the US
survived Auschwitzs crematoria (Weiss Civil Rights movement, argued that violence is
related to power and strength, but distinct in its
2001). The pictures in this album are instrumentality: Phenomenologically, it is close
quotidian scenes from the rst decades to strength, since the implements of violence,
of the last century: a group of teenagers like all other tools, are designed and used for
playfully thumbing their noses at the camera, the purposes of multiplying natural strength
a proud family posing in front of a store, a until, in the last stage of their development,
they can substitute for it (Arendt 1970: 46).
smartly dressed couple on a promenade
Can one imagine the Bosnian example as a signal
through town, children modeling their of this transformation, as a quotidian example
costumes for a school play, a wedding, a of this last stage of development when the
picnic. Similar to the family snapshot from implement of violence substitutes for the violence
Sarajevo, the pictures in The Last Album do itself?
not represent the violence of the genocide 3 The term warchitecture emerged in Sarajevo
in any direct fashion.8 Yet the history of their as a name for the catastrophic destruction of

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Sharon Sliwinski On Photographic Violence 313

architecture during the 19921996 siege of the Balkans, the most common way to identify
city (cf. Herscher 2008). ethnicity was by family name. Most family
names are easily identiable as Orthodox
4 These and many more of Havivs photographs Christian Serbian, Bosnian Muslim, or Catholic
can be viewed in an online photo essay: http:// Croatian. But in Bosnia in particular, some
photoarts.com/haviv/BloodandHoney/, accessed names are common among all three groups and
February 13, 2009. many families have long genealogies of mixed
marriages. There are no immediately apparent
5 Ron Haviv conrms: the scratches actually
physical differences between the three peoples.
pierce the image. It appears the vertical lines
Throughout the region, however, only Muslims
were done using some sort of implement and the
practice circumcision. During the war it became
horizontal possibly with a razor blade (personal
common practice for Bosnian Serb (or Bosnian
correspondence, January 14, 2009).
Croat) soldiers to order men to drop their
6 Attacks upon the face carry a special symbolic pants for identication. The widespread rape
signicance. Groebners study (Groebner 2004) of Muslim women during the conict was often
draws attention to the link between facial justied through a reference to circumcision
disgurement, racism, and policing of the sexual (Olujic 1998). In light of Groebners study, the
order. In 1938, for instance, he reports that the ne scratches and long, vicious cuts done to the
Swiss physician and racial anthropologist George Muslim family photograph perhaps can be seen
Montandon published an article in France calling to bear a deeper symbolic signicance about
for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine the sexualization of aggression. The damage
as the solution to the Jewish Question. The perhaps points to the Serbian occupiers fantasies
article called upon Jews to divest themselves of about circumcision and the invisible sexual act.
their other citizenships and further proposed a But such expressions of aggression are not easy
protective policy that prevented mixing with to interpret. Freud famously remarked that
other races. Sexual relations between Jews and Thanatosthe destructive drivepurposely
non-Jews were outlawed. Montandon proposed eludes perception (Freud 2002 [1930]: 57).
that men violating this law should be castrated It works silently, so to speak, discerned only
and women under the age of forty should have as a residue left behind by Eros. The found
their noses cut off (Groebner 2004: 67). Groebner photograph bears the marks of this struggle. The
nds precedent for this particular punishment in artifact provides a kind of mute testimony about
fteenth-century Nuremburg where the cut-off the work of sadismEros yoked out of shape,
nose appeared as the symbol par excellence perverted by the destructive force of Thanatos.
of losing face, that is, of lost honor (Groebner
7 My discussion draws heavily here from Andr
2004: 80). The face thus disguredrendered
Greens notion of negative hallucination (Green
Ungestaltwas a visible mark of an invisible
1999 [1973]).
sexual disgrace that could range from adultery
to (passive) homosexual activity. Montandons 8 There is a large and growing body of literature
propsal from 1938 features an additional that questions photographys capacity to
phantasm in its tacit reference to the allegedly represent the events of the Holocaust (or
Jewish nose that so fascinated nineteenth- indeed any traumatic event) faithfully. Engaging
and twentieth-century racial anthropologists the complexities of this debate is far beyond,
(Groebner 2004: 86). A symbolic link is implied and indeed aside from, the scope of the present
between the (Jewish) nose and circumcised penis, paper. I would, however, point the reader to
between the policing of illicit sexual activity and its Georges Didi-Hubermans recent book Images
punishment in facial disgurement. in Spite of All as one of the most lucid sites of the
Groebners study bears a surprising signicance debate. Speaking of four photographs made by
to the found photograph from Bosnia. In the the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz in 1944, Didi-

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314 On Photographic Violence Sharon Sliwinski

Huberman contends that the photographic image Green, Andr. 1999 [1973]. The Fabric of Affect.
appears in the fold between two impossibilities: Trans. A. Sheridan. London and New York:
the imminent obliteration of the witness and a Routledge.
certain unrepresentability of testimony. Moreover,
because the Sonderkommando felt the perilous Groebner, Valentin. 2004. Defaced: The Visual Culture
need to snatch an image from the real, we are of Violence in the Late Middle Ages. Trans. P. Selwyn.
perhaps obliged to contemplate, to imagine the New York: Zone Books.
hell that was Auschwitz in the summer of 1944 Gutman, Roy. 1993. A Witness to Genocide. New York:
(Didi-Huberman 2008: 7). Macmillan.

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